Hi, I'm a Boy, by Eideticboth
A student of mine from two summers ago contacted me last winter break about proofreading a translation from Korean to English that she was doing of a story by her older sister. This sort of request usually proves to be a disappointment -- the writing generally being low in quality -- but when she showed me what she'd translated so far, I realized that her sister's story had real literary quality, and that my ex-student's translation had captured that quality. They just needed some help, so I agreed to an arrangement by which I'd edit the text for idiomatic English.
We finished shortly before the close of the spring semester a little over a month ago, and I asked what they planned to do with the translation. My former student explained that she and her sister intended to publish an electronic version available for download on Kindle and other devices. Two days ago, she contacted me to inform me that the story is now ready for downloading from Amazon under the title Hi, I'm a Boy!, by Eideticboth (their combined pseudonym):
'Hi, I'm a boy!' has published at last!I take this to mean that every thing up to and including the episode "Grandma: Life of the Third Floor" is available for sampling, so I'll provide an excerpt of these first three episodes. The story is told from the perspective of a 'Korean' boy about fifteen named "Daniel" who has a significantly older 'stepbrother' called "Highboy," probably because he's so tall, and the two of them live with Daniel's mother and grandmother in a motel that the mother manages and owns:
You can try a sample of it both in Amazon.com site or any Kindle device you might have such as an iPhone or Android phone.
Its sample provides up to 'Grandma; life on the third floor.'
Thus ends the first three, unnumbered 'chapters', with several more to come, reaching about fifty pages in all. The style continues in this fashion, low-key, personal, somewhat nostalgic, and it depicts hardscrabble Korean life for a mixed-race 'family' from the early to mid-1990s, when most Koreans had still never seen a foreigner in person because the tsunami of globalization had not yet overwhelmed the country.Our neighborhood had some buildings near the train station with red lights like the kind used in butcher shops, except these lights shone on women who wore pretty dresses instead of on displayed meat.Our Neighborhood
The neighborhood was behind a train station. In the middle of the intersection was a nightclub called "Major League" that had a seventies air about it. To the left were whorehouses, and to the right were indistinguishable buildings lining a street where only the neon signs differentiated the various bars and strip clubs located inside.
And finally, at the end of the street, there was the motel "East Sea," my home, sweet home.
There was a main street at the rear of my house. Every morning, I would look down at the street from a window on the third floor and watch people from the apartment complex on the other side of the street swarm around the bus stop to board buses.
Most of them probably had no idea that such a neighborhood existed only half a mile down from the bus stop. The apartments were just part of a neighborhood facing ours across a single big street, but those people acted as if they were living in another country. Even though the people living in the apartment complex and the rest of the residential area used the same language as us, they pretended not to understand our speech and even acted as if we were invisible.
They finally decided that they could no longer put up with the danger and the loss in property values from living alongside us. The residents of the apartment complex and the rest of the residential area hired an attorney to represent them and filed a damages suit against the national government for doing nothing to rid the area of its red light district.
They staged protests for their rights in the square at the train station. I happened to be passing by when they were appealing to citizens to back their campaign. They also asked me to sign. I was just a nine-year-old boy, but they did not care. I readily signed. They even went around to obtain signatures, accompanied by representatives.
After a tug of war with the government, their campaign, supported by the hundreds of signatures collected, succeeded after months of indecision when the government finally granted their request. Construction began on an overpass across the street. The overpass continued with an opaque roof and extended to the train station, cutting across the sky over our neighborhood like a viaduct. Their dream came true. That was a so-called overpass over the intersection.
They no longer had to pass through our neighborhood to reach the train station. They were satisfied with the overpass, which allowed them to safely cross our neighborhood, and they gradually forgot us. As a matter of fact, the kids there did not even seem aware of our very existence.
All the people who came to enjoy our neighborhood were outsiders. It was located near a military base. As evening approached, soldiers would begin flocking to the intersection. Most of them were foreigners with colorful eyes and white or black skin. Some foreigners even looked as if they had just crossed the sea to come to our neighborhood. But nobody who lived in apartments of the main street came or visited our part of town.Everybody called me "Danny" except my family. They called me "Daniel." I liked that better.My Family
There were four in my family. Grandma, Mother, Highboy, and me. My grandpa died in 1984, the year I was born. Mother said he was so happy to hear the news of my birth. And he just flew to heaven.
Grandma always told me, "Your mother used to be the best pianist in the country's best university. She could also speak English very well and could have gotten a music scholarship to study abroad. And every man who loved her had a prominent job."
I wondered what kind of jobs those might be. Highboy told me it referred to someone working as cook, undertaker, or ticket-taker. Grandma repeated her story to us over and over for several years. It was only later I realized that it meant a doctor, lawyer, or prosecutor, not a cook, undertaker or ticket-taker.
At the end of the story, Grandma would heave a deep sigh. And she'd then fall silent and roll over to face the wall.
She never answered me when I asked what my father was like. Instead of answering, she'd just say that my father and I had ruined my mother's life. She only said that when Mother was out, or Mother would get very angry every time.Highboy and Grandma shared a room on the third floor with its own bathroom. That room had been my mother's when my grandfather was alive. It was too big for one person.Grandma: Life on the Third Floor
On one side of the room, there was a double bed where Grandma always lay, an air conditioner at the head of the bed. On the opposite wall from the bed were a television and a very big wooden wardrobe inlaid with mother-of-pearl. In the far left corner from the door stood a black upright piano. That was my mother's.
Grandma spoke the Kyungsang-do dialect characteristic of southeastern Korea, and she was afflicted with rheumatoid arthritis. Without a cane, she could not walk.
There was a sort of repertoire to Grandma's reiterative whining. One tune that she played was in blaming our motel and the town for everything. She believed all our misfortunes began with moving in.
First, her only daughter, who had an extremely promising future, was taken by a stranger. Next, she lost her husband. After that was an unexpected grandchild. Finally, she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and lived nearly crippled among all these unforeseen circumstances.
In the middle of meals, she often put her chopsticks down and lamented. "I am the one who ruined my daughter's life. What if I hadn't come to this town? Oh, no, what if I hadn't started running this motel, oh, no, no, no, what if my husband was still alive!" And then added, "Why don't we sell this motel right now? You could open a piano studio."
Mother never answered and just continued eating.
Grandma started each day by praying toward the wooden cross on the wall, then wiped her face with the clean washcloth that Mother had prepared by the side of her bed the night before. It was dunked in warm water and wrung out. She then turned on the TV. Lunch at noon. Dinner at seven.
Throughout the day, she was always lying or sitting on the bed, listening to the radio or reading the Bible. When night came, she fell asleep. She repeated her monotonous and uneventful routine day after day.
A half-cut PET bottle was at all times on a small table beside her bed. If she needed to use the toilet, she turned toward the wall and peed in the PET bottle. It was my job to clean those. Sometimes Highboy peed there, too, so I used to make extra bottles.
I could remember when I was little that Grandma would walk around town with her back hunched. For some time, though, Grandma had not been able to come down from the third floor anymore.
I remember that time, for I first arrived in Korea in 1995 and was the object of much attention for the mere fact of being a foreigner. I like the story, which is episodic but adds up to a coherent novella . . . or a long short story.
The cover might give the impression that this is a children's book, but rest assured, the writing is adult level, not really suitable for children.
Recommended reading for those interested in a charming story of a Korea that might already seem a long time ago, though it's also much like yesterday . . .